House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) defended her party’s electoral operation on Thursday, after a candidate in a contested Colorado primary released audio tape of Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) urging him to quit the race.
“I don’t know that a person can tape a person without the person’s consent and then release it to the press,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference. “In terms of candidates and campaigns I don’t see anything inappropriate in what Mr. Hoyer was engaged in — a conversation about the realities of life in the race as to who can make the general election.”
Thursday’s controversy began when the Intercept released audio of a December 2017 meeting between Hoyer and Levi Tillemann, a green energy entrepreneur running for the Democratic nomination in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. The Democratic-trending district, one of 23 that elected a Republican to the House while backing Hillary Clinton for president, is one of the party’s top targets in November’s midterm elections.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has thrown its weight in the race behind Jason Crow, an attorney and veteran running a more center-left campaign than Tillemann, who supports universal Medicare and other planks of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) campaign platform. In the December conversation, Hoyer told Tillemann that “a decision was made early on by the Colorado delegation” to back Crow, and that it would continue to do so.
“Staying out of primaries sounds small-D democratic, very intellectual and very interesting,” said Hoyer, according to the tape. “But it was clear that it was our policy and our hope that, early on, try to come to an agreement on a candidate that we thought could win the general, and to give that candidate all the help we could give them.”
This isn’t the first time that Tillemann has reached out to reporters with details of the Hoyer meeting. In January, Colorado Politics obtained “detailed notes” from the meeting’s aftermath, and reported that Washington Democrats had urged Tillemann to leave the race and leave a runway open for Crow.
“If you stay in the race — and, frankly, I would hope you would not — but if you stay in the race, it is not useful to the objective to tear down Crow,” Hoyer told Tillemann, according to both the notes released in January and the audio released this week.
That story raised eyebrows among Democratic activists. One month later, the DCCC waded into a larger national controversy by releasing opposition research on Laura Moser, a candidate in Texas’s 7th Congressional District, and warned that she had made gaffes that would make her unelectable if she won the party’s nomination.
The Moser controversy, which did not stop Moser from securing a spot in the May 22 runoff, kicked off a wave of negative stories, with Democrats who felt pushed aside by the DCCC dishing to reporters and sharing details of meetings. Greg Edwards, a candidate in Pennsylvania’s 7th District, told The Post last month about the DCCC’s local operative urging him to quit his race and run for state Senate. Kara Eastman, a candidate in the May 15 primary for Omaha’s 2nd Congressional District, also cried foul when the DCCC backed former congressman Brad Ashford’s comeback bid over her insurgent campaign.
All that has amped up liberal criticism of the DCCC, which has long intervened in party primaries — but never in a year with so many challengers. After the Intercept’s story ran, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee emailed its donors to raise money for Tillemann.
“Please donate $3 to 3 progressives the DCCC is trying to defeat in upcoming primaries by putting their finger on the scale for corporate Democrats,” the email read.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, the DCCC’s counterpoint, has gleefully sent each example of activist/DCCC strife to reporters. The DCCC’s greatest test of the cycle is just weeks away, in a series of California primaries where the state’s top-two runoff system could lock Democrats out of the general election, if they split the vote between too many candidates.
“The level of distrust between the progressive community and House Democratic leadership is at an all-time high,” NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt wrote in a Thursday email that shared the Tillemann story. “Get ready for the DCCC to become even more toxic in Democratic primaries.”
Pelosi, who has raised millions in this cycle for both individual candidates and the DCCC, said that the candidates who complained about party intervention needed to focus on the prize — control of the House.
“What’s important in all of this is that one in five children in America lives in poverty, goes to sleep hungry,” Pelosi said. “That’s what makes this election so urgent, for our children. So if the reality is that some candidates can get into the general [more] than others, then that’s a clear-eyes conversation.”